Starcruiser Anonymous

(A Tale Within Sfstory)

Episode 15
Wherein Strange, Shadowy Figures
Come Out of the Woodwork

Dave Menendez

The Green and Black Squadrons stood in the hangar, watching the small craft come to a complete halt. “Be careful,” Rick Hydrospok warned, “we can’t be sure who these people are.”

“Um, Hydrospok,” George Daniels commented, “we’ve seen this ship before.”

Hydrospok blinked and gave the ship a closer look. “Oh, right!” he said at last. “I remember: it’s the one that Space Hero and his friends used.”

“He’s not a hero!” called a voice from the ship, whose main hatch had just opened. “He’s only minoring in Heroism,” Anme continued, stepping down onto the hangar floor. She was quickly followed by Horlun and Roy.

“Hey, guys!” Roy called, seeing his squad-mates.

“Hi, Roy,” Hydrospok replied, speaking for all the Green Squadron (something he did often, although this was the rare exception where they actually agreed with what he said).

“The squadron hasn’t been the same without you,” Sally Winters added.

“It seemed pretty much the same to me:” Marshall Stanford disagreed, smirking, “ineffective.” His companions in the Black Squadron grinned in unison (they would have laughed in unison, but that’s harder to coordinate).

“You know,” Hydrospok commented, “true warriors don’t need smart-alec remarks to soothe their egos.”

“That is true,” Stanford agreed, “but that doesn’t mean they can’t use them if they want to.”

Hydrospok had no response to that, giving Roy a chance to speak up. “I’ve got news for Captain Harrison, and some data about that ship you just fought. Why don’t you show Anme and Horlun the ship while I give my report?”

“Sounds good,” Hydrospok said.

“As we are not needed here, we will return to the pilots’ lounge,” Stanford announced.

“…to practice our Scrabble skills,” Dave Menéndez added.

Stanford shot him a sour look, and the Black Squadron filed out.

“So, where is Megan?” asked Winters.

“She’s still on Planet Gloom,” answered Horlun.

“Against my objections,” added Roy. “One of our allies insisted that she was needed for our plans to succeed, and she agreed.” He sighed. Then, a thought occurred to him. “Did anyone tell her family she was with us?”

“Yes,” Winters replied. “They took it … rather well, considering.”

“Tom only threatened to strangle her once,” Stan Losar rumbled.

“That’s great,” Roy grinned. “But, I should be going.”

“You can find the bridge from here, right?” Hydrospok asked.

“I think so,” Roy replied. “This shouldn’t take long,” he told Horlun and Anme, as he walked towards the exit.

“Don’t hurry on our account,” Anme said, just as the door closed behind him.

For a brief moment, the six people just stood in silence. Finally, Hydrospok spoke up. “So,” he said, “what would you like to see?”

“Is there a place we can eat around here?” Horlun asked.

Roy stared at the ceiling of the elevator, imagining he could see patterns in its smooth surface. Like most of the restricted areas of the ship, as opposed to the public areas where the civilians lived, no one had bothered to dress up the rather plain decor. To some extent, that was because the restricted areas were very large and saw very little activity. There were some regions of the ship, such as the lower area by the engines, that weren’t even mapped out. At least, the ship’s current inhabitants had never mapped them out. The ship’s designers, presumably, had a fairly good grasp of its interior geography.

To Roy, the smooth gray walls meant home—which was a bit depressing, when he thought about it. When had he started thinking of the Anonymous as home, instead of his family’s old house? He decided it was probably around the time the Anonymous launched, leaving an impressive crater behind where a good portion of northern New Jersey had been. He wondered if the crater had filled in, or if it was a lake.

Before he could figure out which was more likely, the elevator arrived—an impressive feat, given the distance it had needed to travel. Fortunately, the same technology that gave the ship artificial gravity also allowed amazing acceleration in the elevators. Indeed, some had suggested that ‘elevator’ wasn’t an appropriate name, and that something like “SpeedyLift” should be used. They were generally ignored.

After a short walk, he reached Captain Harrison’s outer office. It was empty, although that wasn’t surprising, as the Captain had no secretary. For a moment, he stood before the doors to the inner office, uncertain how to proceed. He’d never actually been to the Captain’s office before, and he had no idea how to announce his presence. Eventually, he tried the simple method. “Hello?” he called, feeling stupid.

In response, the doors slowly swung inwards, revealing a large, dark room. At least, Roy assumed it was large; he couldn’t be sure since it was so dark. The only light came from a narrow strip of window on the far wall that stretched from the ceiling to the floor, illuminating a path to the desk by the far wall. The rest of the room was almost invisible. Roy stepped inside, noting with relief that the office contained no giant, disembodied heads floating before walls of flame, so at least some of the stories he had heard were false.

As he approached the desk, he noticed that the desk chair was currently facing towards the window, which meant that the Captain couldn’t see him. He wondered if he should say something, or if that would be rude. He needn’t have worried, however, as she somehow knew when he arrived and spun the chair to face him.

“Squadmember Gaelen,” she began, “welcome back. I take it you were on the ship we picked up before we left Planet Gloom?” Roy nodded. “Was your search successful?”

Roy waved his hand in a “so-so” gesture. “Kind of. We found one of them, Jen Kadar, and she told us where the others had gone. Evidently, she was accidentally left behind.”

Harrison raised an eyebrow. “‘Accidentally’?”

“She was knocked unconscious by the Zakavians, and the fleet the others were on left without her,” Roy explained.

“I see. And the others?”

“They were last seen going to a planet called Arorua in disguise. I have the coordinates with me, along with some specifications on the weapon you were fighting with previously.”

“Specifications?” Harrison asked, her eyes lighting up. “With those, we have a chance, however small, to find a weakness which would allow us to destroy it.”

Roy shrugged. “Bob has a plan for that. He’s been rather vague, but he assures us he has a plan.”

“I see. Tell me more of this … Bob.”

Roy proceeded to describe events after he had left the Green Squadron. When he finished, Harrison leaned back in her chair, lost in thought, giving Roy a chance to look around. Of course, the only thing he could see was the window, as it was the only thing really giving off any light. Looking closer, he noted that it showed a lovely view of some snow-capped mountains—which was odd, there were no mountains inside the Anonymous and it certainly wasn’t an outside view, since the office was several kilometers within the ship. Presumably, it was an illusion of some sort. He wondered what range were they from, but eventually had to admit that he had no chance of identifying them by sight. On a whim, he moved his head, to test the illusion of parallax. Sure enough, the mountains seemed to follow the motion of his head. He moved back and forth a few times to test it.

“Are you all right?” Harrison asked, sounding somewhere between concerned and amused.

Roy froze. “Huh?” he said automatically, before his mind could fully return to the situation. “Sorry, I was … admiring your mountain range.”

“It’s very nice, isn’t it?” Harrison agreed. “I think it’s some sort of hologram. Someday, when the technicians aren’t too busy, I’ll ask them about it.” She stood. “Come, I’d like to meet your friends.”

“Are we getting close yet?” Anme asked. Her enthusiasm, which hadn’t been very high to begin with, was threatening to reach negative levels, at which point it would begin leeching enthusiasm from those around her.

“It’s not much farther,” Hydrospok replied. “We’ll be there soon.”

“Did we really have to walk to Chez Casa?” Daniels asked.

“I didn’t feel like waiting ten minutes for the elevator to get back,” Hydrospok explained.

“So instead we walk for twenty?” Anme asked incredulously. “Your wisdom is strange, O Hydrospok.”

“It gives you a chance to see the ship,” Hydrospok protested. “Don’t tell me you haven’t enjoyed any part of this walk.”

“I haven’t enjoyed—” Anme began.

“What did I just say?” Hydrospok snapped, cutting her off.

Anme chose not to answer, and the group walked in silence through the futuristic cityscape of Sector 6A. Improbably, the catwalk they were on ended in an escalator, which rose into the wall of the wide skyscraper before them. “Why put an escalator in the middle of a cityscape?” Anme asked.

“Actually,” Daniels corrected, “we’re at the edge. The designers managed to make this sector look a lot bigger than it really is.”


Seemingly in defiance of common sense, the escalator, whose bottom was several hundred feet up and which moved ever higher, ended in a anteroom at what seemed to be ground level. While the Green Squadron was used to this sort of incongruity, it still confused Anme and Horlun, although they were getting used to it. The simple explanation was that Sector 7G was located mostly above Sector 6A, which sounds much more plausible than it looks, since the illusionary sky in the residence sectors is quite believable.

“Welcome to Sector 7G,” Hydrospok announced as they entered the large mall-like area.

“Nice,” Horlun said, looking around at the various shops, the customers, the shadowy, trenchcoat-wearing figures, and the large mass of protesters.

“What’s with the protesters?” Anme asked, sensing something interesting at last.

Hydrospok sighed. “A number of people are upset about the Captain taking the ship to Planet Gloom. I don’t know why, myself.”

“They’re upset that their lives were risked without their consent,” supplied a passing trenchcoated figure.

“Who are—” Daniels started to ask, stopping when he saw that the figure had vanished into the shadows.

“Mysterious, vanishing, trenchcoat-wearing figures,” Hydrospok said, noticing their presence for the first time. “This forebodes an omen of some sort,” he declared.

“It seems to be a theme on this trip,” Horlun mused. “First Bob, now these guys. Must be a fashion trend.”

“The mysterious figure raises a good point, though,” Anme insisted. “This ‘Captain’ of yours should not have the power to risk the lives of innocents. That’s just plain wrong.”

“Anme, could you wait until after dinner to get involved in local politics?” Horlun asked wearily. “Right now, I’d rather eat than argue. I haven’t had a good meal since we left Foobarh.”

“Very well,” Anme conceded. “So where is this Chez Casa?”

“Not far,” Hydrospok assured her.

“That’s what you said back in Sector 5D,” Winters reminded him.

“Feh,” Hydrospok grumbled, “no one appreciates a good walk anymore.” He led them towards Chez Casa, where they found something quite surprising. “Captain!” Hydrospok gasped.

“Good day, Squad Commander,” Captain Harrison replied.

“See?” Roy asked. “I told you they’d be coming here eventually.”

“I never doubted you,” Harrison assured him.

“How did you get here before us?” Winters asked. “I thought Roy needed to give a report.”

“He did. It was quite informative.”

“B-but…” Winters sputtered.

“Perhaps the walk was a bit lengthy,” Hydrospok conceded.

“I’m sure we needed the exercise,” Daniels told him.

“Anyway,” Harrison began, turning to Anme, who was trying to ignore her, and Horlun, who was trying to send the message ‘I’d like some food now, dammit!’ non-verbally, “I’d like to welcome you to the Anonymous. After we’ve finished picking up our people on Arorua, we can drop you off somewhere if you’d like.”

“What about your people on Planet Gloom?” Anme asked.

Harrison shrugged. “This ‘Bob’ person they’re with seems reasonably trustworthy. We’ll meet up with him eventually. In the meantime, you’ll probably want some quarters. I imagine your ship is a bit crowded.”

“That’s true,” Horlun confirmed.

“I’d prefer to stay with the civilians than with the crew,” Anme said.

Harrison quirked an eyebrow. “So you found out the civilians get better quarters, eh? That’s fine with me, assuming we can find space.”

“Great,” Horlun said. “Let’s eat.”

“This is important to you,” Daniels said, “I can tell.”

“I want to get the taste of Zakavian military cooking out of my mouth.”

Hydrospok nodded gravely. “The foods of Evil are strange and mysterious.”

“Nah. ‘Strange’ I could handle, ‘bland’ just gets boring after a while.”

“Ignore him,” Daniels suggested. “He does that all the time.”

“Ignore who?” Winters asked, looking around.

“He meant me,” Hydrospok told her.

“Huh? Is someone talking?”

“You let these people fly fighters?” Horlun whispered to Harrison.

Harrison shrugged. “It keeps them out of trouble. Besides, fighters are mostly superfluous on a ship this size.”

“‘Mostly superfluous’?” Roy asked.

“Nothing personal, of course.”

“Oh, of course.”

“And now,” Harrison said, raising her voice a little, “I should be going. Duty calls.” The Green Squadron saluted, and she walked off towards the nearest elevator.

“So, Roy,” Daniels asked, “will you be joining us?”

Roy shook his head. “Actually, I’d rather go find Beth. I haven’t seen her yet.”

“We’ll just have to have fun without you, then,” Daniels declared.

“Think you can manage it?”

“No, but when has that stopped us before?” Winters shrugged.

Roy grinned. “Whatever.” They said good-bye and Roy walked off towards an escalator in search of his sister.

As fate would have it, Beth was also in Sector 7G at the time, where she was hoping to purchase a briefcase to hold the various technical things that she often needed to carry around. Of course, the Anonymous lacked much in the way of industry, so she was having trouble finding a store that sold what she needed. In fact, she was ready to give up when she found a small, secluded place that looked promising.

The lone clerk noticed her entrance immediately. “Can I help you?” he asked, quickly walking up to her.

“I’m looking for a briefcase,” Beth told him.

“A briefcase?”

“Yes. I need it to hold papers and the occasional bit of technology.”

The clerk glanced at her outfit. “You’re part of the crew?”

“I’m in the technical division, actually.”

“Not in command, then?” he asked, making a subtle gesture at something behind Beth.

Beth nodded, glancing behind her and not seeing anything. “I’m part of the group trying to understand how the ship works, in case something goes wrong.”

“Interesting, interesting. You’re familiar with the layout of the restricted areas, then?”


“How fascinating.” He glanced around, and then leaned in closer. “Tell me, have you technicians found any interesting stuff you’re not telling the rest of us about?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know … any weapons?”


The clerk grinned. “Let me see if we have any briefcases in the back.”

“Okay….” Beth glanced around again, ignoring the trenchcoated figures trying to hide in the shadows. Some people would do anything to look fashionable. They did fit in well in the store though, as it had plenty of shadows for them to stand in.

“Hello?” the clerk asked, reappearing. “I think I’ve found something.”

“Really? That’s great. Where is it?”

The clerk glanced around again, looking nervous. “It’s, er, in the back. If you’d come with me, Miss…?”

“Gaelen. Why can’t you bring it out here?”

“Oh, um, they’re, um, far too … heavy to bring out here.”

“Heavy? I’ll need to be carrying objects inside these briefcases. If they’re too heavy when they’re empty then there isn’t much point, now is there?”

“Um, er, that is … we put heavy weights in them, to prevent theft.”

“Why? Who’s going to steal them in the back room? Besides, can’t you take the weights out and bring them here to—oof!”

“Sorry,” apologized the shadowy figure behind her.

“Watch where you’re going!” the clerk admonished. He turned back to Beth, suddenly friendly again. “Just an accident, I assure you.” He laughed nervously. “Anyway, if you’ll come with me?”

“Is something wrong?” Beth asked, getting a bit suspicious.

“Wrong? No! Nothing’s wrong!”

“Are you sure?”

“Reasonably certain. If you’ll come with me?”

“Why? To be honest, you’re starting to make me nervous.”

“Just go with him, lady,” growled the shadowy figure behind her.

“Quiet!” hissed the clerk. He turned to Beth. “Are you sure you won’t come with me? We’ve got a lovely selection of knapsacks.”


“Right. Briefcases. We’ve got a lovely selection of them in the back room. Just come with me, please.”

The door opened, scattering the shadows.

“Hello?” Roy called.

“Roy!” cried Beth, relief plain in her voice. “It’s so good to see you again.”

“Is something wrong?” Roy asked, looking around the room quizzically.

“No!” the clerk answered. “Nothing’s wrong! Really!”

“Oh,” Roy shrugged, “that’s good. So, Beth, you up for dinner?”

“Sounds good,” Beth told him, dragging him out of the store. “Let’s go now.”

Time passed, as it often does in these situations. The artificial evening on the Anonymous changed into the equally artificial night, and those who weren’t pretending to stay up late went to bed. Anme had surprised herself by actually enjoying the evening, despite having to spend it with the oppressing class. Afterward, she had been shown to a nice room in Sector 6A, and had spent the time since then trying to fall asleep. After a few hours getting used to the unfamiliar surroundings, she was about ready to doze off.

Predictably, there was a crash on the balcony, followed by some muffled cursing. Anme sprang out of bed, grabbed the first heavy object she could find, and ran towards the balcony door. She was stopped midway there, however, by the electrical cord on the lamp she had grabbed. Abandoning that, she grabbed a heavy copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare that was inexplicably lying on her end-table. Quickly stepping outside, she found yet another patron of the trenchcoat and fedora shops hopping on one foot and holding the other knee in pain next to an overturned deck chair. Hearing the door open, he turned to Anme and was able to get out “Excuse me, Miss—” before she introduced him to the collected output of the Bard. The hard way.

“Ow!” he cried, staggering back and holding his head. “Geez, what’d you do that for?”

“Who are you and why are you sneaking around my balcony?” Anme asked, unimpressed with his clever repartee.

“My name,” he replied, drawing himself up and trying to regain his dignity, “is unimportant. I am here on a mission.”

“Oooh,” said Anme, who was growing less impressed by the syllable.

“Some of my associates heard you discussing Captain Harrison’s policies this afternoon,” the figure explained. “We were wondering how deeply you believe what you said.”

“I say what I mean,” Anme replied. “What do you care?”

“They happen to agree with you. They’d like to meet with you tomorrow, if that would be possible.”

“Why tomorrow?”

“They’re asleep now.”

“I was asleep until a few moments ago, as I recall.”

“Er, yes. Actually, I was just going to leave a note, when I hit your deck chair.”

“Uh huh. And where would I hypothetically be meeting these people?”

“They will come to you.”

“That’s convenient, but aren’t they afraid of being seen?”

The figure shrugged. “We have ways of moving around unnoticed.”

“I assume they’re better than you?”

Instead of answering, the figure stepped into the shadows, which weren’t quite enough to hide him, and snuck off.

“Whatever.” Anme closed the door and went back to bed.

The next “morning”, Roy awoke early and headed over to Beth’s quarters. During dinner, she had described her odd experience attempting to buy a briefcase and confessed that she didn’t feel completely safe. While Roy felt this was an overreaction on her part, he had had a disturbing premonition during the night and had resolved to check in on her the next morning.

She didn’t answer the door, but he was on Beth’s list of admissible people, so the door opened for him. He noticed an odd scent in the room, and rushed over to Beth’s open bedroom door. Despite Beth’s tidy nature, the room was a bit of a mess. Out of the corner of his eye, Roy noticed Beth’s preferred comlink lying on an end-table. With an ominous gut feeling, Roy logged into her terminal and searched for an active comsignal with Beth’s identification. There were none—she was missing.

“Uh oh.”

What happened to Beth?

What are these shadowy figures up to?

What do they want with Anme?

How bad is Zakavian military food?

At least one of these questions will remain unanswered in the next oil-guzzling episode of Starcruiser Anonymous.

SFSTORY: Got That Mustache Feeling